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Fantasy Football: Mailbag Questions Devy Edition Draft Spin

Your fantasy football questions answered each week for your devy and dynasty teams -- this week, with an NFL Draft spin.

Fantasy Football: Mailbag Questions

Your fantasy football questions answered each week for your devy and dynasty teams -- this week, with an NFL Draft spin.

Your fantasy football questions answered each week for your devy and dynasty teams -- this week, with an NFL Draft spin.

Get your fantasy football questions in each week!

Now that the college season is underway, every week will feature a mailbag article where readers can ask their devy questions. Send a tweet to @skipnewton31 to add your question to a future article!

The majority of top-12 fantasy players are less than five-star recruits. Taking that into account, should we wait until they are established college players before drafting them, or should we throw as many darts as possible at true freshmen? - CJ Lang (@Clubber_Lang83)

When to draft players is a challenge for devy managers in most leagues. Annual devy drafts make the player pool deeper and deeper with each passing season. The first step is looking at historical data to determine hit rates based on recruiting rankings.

The first position to analyze is quarterbacks. A hit at quarterback is any player drafted in rounds one or two or who had a top-18 fantasy season in the NFL. Even if a quarterback is a bust, he still retains value when drafted early. From 2011 - 2016, there were 12 five-star recruits at quarterback. Josh Rosen, Kyler Murray, and Christian Hackenberg are considered hits due to their draft capital. Rosen and Hackenberg never developed into fantasy-relevant players, but their draft capital means they had some value early in their careers. Note that two rookies, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, were five-star prospects.

That time frame includes 129 four-star passers and 13 hits. Interestingly, relevant quarterbacks are an impressive eight out of 13, including fantasy studs like Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson. The other four are Sam Darnold, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, and Teddy Bridgewater, all starters for their teams at one point this season.

There were 498 three-stars and six hits from those recruiting classes. The big names are Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Pat Mahomes, and Dak Prescott, with Jordan Love and Baker Mayfield still holding value in Superflex and two-quarterback leagues. It is also worth noting that three rookies drafted in the first round in 2021 were also three-star recruits: Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones.

Five-star prospects hit 25 percent of the time but haven’t produced the best fantasy results. While three and four-star athletes have produced better players, the more prominent player pools make it challenging for devy managers to draft them as freshmen. The data suggests that taking a chance on a five-star prospect has a higher probability of success, but waiting to draft established quarterbacks is the wiser devy strategy. It also begs the question, what position should they focus on instead if managers pass on a quarterback?

Breaking down running backs and wide receivers from 2011 - 2017 will help answer that question. Since runners and receivers tend to be drafted later than passers, a hit is any draft pick on day one, day two, or a player with a top-24 fantasy season.

In that time frame, there were 18 five-star running back prospects. Of those 18, eight were hits for an incredible 44.4 percent, including excellent fantasy producers like Najee Harris, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, and Joe Mixon.

The list of names is equally as impressive when you look at four-star backs. D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Ezekiel Elliott were four-star recruits. The higher number of studs should not be a surprise, given there were 190 running backs in the player pool, and the hit rate is not as high at 13.2 percent, but the production is as good as it gets.

Three-star rushers are not nearly as impressive despite the 821 names over that period. The best fantasy rushers from this group include David Montgomery, James Robinson, Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison, Chris Carson, and Kareem Hunt. The 2.3 percent hit rate leads to an obvious conclusion, do not gamble on three-star running backs until they have established themselves in college.

The final group to analyze is wide receivers. Is it worth a devy draft pick on a five-star prospect before the player has played a collegiate game? From 2011-2017, there were 21 five-star receiver prospects, nine of whom were drafted on day one, day two, or have had a fantasy-relevant season, resulting in a 43 percent hit rate. The best players include Stefon Diggs, Jarvis Landry, Calvin Ridley, Michael Pittman Jr., and DeVonta Smith.

There were 297 four-star pass-catchers and 31 hits, just over ten percent, from 2011-2017. This larger pool includes some fantasy juggernauts with Odell Beckham Jr., Amari Cooper, Terry McLaurin, Chris Godwin, Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, and CeeDee Lamb. 

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The number of three-star prospects at wide receiver is an astounding 1,184, but only 19 qualify as a hit. Justin Jefferson, DJ Moore, Brandin Cooks, Tyler Lockett, and Allen Robinson came out of this large group, but hitting on them as newcomers is like betting on Alabama to have a losing season. The under two percent hit rate makes them far too risky to draft as freshmen.

The data proves that the top-rated prospects have a far greater likelihood of providing fantasy goodness for your roster or getting drafted high enough to provide value. While the top NFL players are often three and four-star recruits, predicting that is a risky strategy before entering college, especially at quarterback.

If devy managers could go back to their draft before the 2021 season started, who should they have taken based on likely hit rates? Caleb Williams is the only five-star prospect who has played enough to get excited about thus far. Jaxson Dart, USC’s four-star passer, looks promising in limited action. The other 28 five and four-star quarterbacks are still waiting their turn.

There were only two five-star running backs in the 2021 class, but TreVeyon Henderson is already a tier-one devy running back. Michigan’s Donovan Edwards has not had the same opportunity but has also looked impressive when given a chance. Several 24 four-star rushers have seen action in their first season, notably Clemson’s Will Shipley, Kansas back Devin Neal, and Minnesota freshman Mar’Keise Irving. It is not a surprise to see more first-year runners get a chance to showcase their skills, which leads to a better return for managers who took a chance on them in drafts.

Neither of the two five-star wide receivers saw the field a lot this season. Emeka Egbuka of Ohio State and Alabama’s Ja’Corey Brooks are buried on deep depth charts. There were a few standout four-stars in a recruiting class that totaled 49. Texas’s Xavier Worthy is already a stud. Brian Thomas Jr. (LSU), Mario Williams (Oklahoma), and Beaux Collins (Clemson) all had solid first seasons and will gain value as they become more prominent in their respective offenses.

As devy managers prepare for next year’s drafts, going after incoming prospects can result in a massive hit for a devy roster. But be careful. If it is a Superflex or two-quarterback league, focus on five-star quarterbacks or take a player who already has a year or two of experience. The top running backs and wide receivers have a much higher hit rate than inexperienced quarterbacks. Build up the taxi squad with as many of them as possible, and dynasty rosters will continue to add young talent every season.

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